First of all, Neff was the most accomplished expert in the publishing world I've ever run across, and his creds prove that.
I think Michael Neff and the Algonkian conferences provide a great service to writers. Please bear with me on my explanation.
Michael is plugged in to the publishing and agent community.
He is pushing the idea of the "High Concept" novel. The term is not what you think from the name, (at least I didn't understand it until researching) research it. His goal is to provide you with the best possible chance of getting published, plain and simple. He is not there to coddle anyone or tell them what they want to hear. He wants to help mold your idea into something that an editor will buy or an agent will represent.
This is not the only way to get published. You can take what you wrote and try to sell it to someone, or even self publish. This is the easiest path to get your novel published and provide the most return on your investment of time and effort. Lets face it, the next Harry Potter, Werewolf (wink) or Vampire novel will most likely sell a lot easier or a lot more than a quiet love story set in rural america.
When I went to the NYC Pitch and Shop in September 2010, I almost left after the first day. I got torn apart with my pitch. I was trying to write a twilightesque novel and it didn't have anything to set it apart, nothing to make an editor stand up and take notice. I decided I had invested my time and money going, so I stuck it through. I met with Michael personally every morning and stayed well into the night talking to him at dinner, absorbing as much as I could. By the end I had honed my novel to the point where it has passed the teenage reader test at a friends school. Without Michaels help, I would still be floundering.
I'm sure he is, although he himself doesn't have an agent, and he doesn't work in commercial publishing. But I'm still a little confused on how the conference provides better help than, say, AW, where plenty of people offer help and feedback, and many of us have extensive experience in commercial publishing; as in, writing and producing novels which go in bookstores and sell to thousands of people all over the country/world.
And you may well be, I wasn't. After 20 years as an engineer hating his english classes at school, I decided to try a new thing on the side. I made the mistake of assuming I knew what it was, I was wrong.I think we're all aware of what a high-concept novel is, thanks.
Not if the quiet love story is well written and interesting, with deeply drawn, complex characters and an exciting story. Novels like that sell all the time; check the Women's Fiction shelves or the Romance shelves if you don't believe me.
(Oh, and self-publishing absolutely does NOT provide "the most return on your investment of time and effort." The average self-published novel sells 75 copies, thus earning less than a hundred dollars. I've supported my family for two years on my several commercially published novels; that to me is a worthwhile return on my investment, and is certainly way more than had I self-published. Self-publishing is often the best way to guarantee no one ever sees, reads, or hears about your novel.)
That's great that you found it so helpful and worth the money! Has an agent agreed to represent the novel yet, or has an editor made an offer to publish it?
Like I said, I really, really don't want to seem like I'm belittling Mr. Neff and/or his accomplishments, and I'm truly glad you had such a good time and felt it was worth the money; I think meeting other writers and establishing friendships, as well as feeling much better about your work, is great! I'm just not sure that if you're looking for help and advice regarding commercial publishing--advance-paying, bookstore-stocking, major-review-getting novel and non-fiction publishing--that Mr. Neff really has the best advice and knowledge regarding that subject, seeing as he has no experience in it that I can see.
I'm also, I admit, a little concerned/put off by some of the behavior exhibited by people closely associated with him/tactics the workshops use to advertise, and this conference (there's more info about Web Del Sol and its relationship to commercial publishing at that link as well). So I really, really hope you stick around and join our community, you three last posters, rather than just doing a sort of drive-by.
I don't want to seem to be starting a flame war, so please do not take this as such.
Agreed, I was not intending on implying that self publishing was the way to go or that it was successful. I know of only a handful of cases where it worked out.
I am simply relaying my experience. I have an editor that wants to see it and an agent that wants to see it also. I am also fully aware that there is not a high chance that either of them will take it on. That is the nature of the business and I am not deluded. However, the time I spent with the editors have given me insights into my story that I think takes it farther along a (hopefully) successful path.
My only concern is that people should hear the good and bad on the conference before deciding.
I'll have to check this out. I haven't looked yet as I wanted to post a quick response. I hope to participate more along the way here.
I don't really care if he himself has an agent (mentioned on a previous post) or if Peter Pan's dog was his agent, or if his book was about a purple alien who had his tooth stolen by the Easter bunny, the guy knows his stuff.
He has been around for a while in the business and has used his knowledge to dedicate himself to helping others rise up from the herd of folks out there wanting to become writers and showing them a way to do it.
What he says makes sense, even if you might not want it to.
More from Stacia about her work. I really like this and I'm buying copies so I can see things burn: